Hat on a Bucket

If you have difficulty making hats using a template between your layers, here is an alternative method to create a seamless hat form. I found myself frustrated with the "hat on a ball" method when I wanted I wide brimmed hat. It was just too difficult and time consuming to get it to stretch out enough. Frustration and I do not get along well together!!

The Bucket

I dug out a smooth, round, tapered bucket-like container that holds about 1-1/2 -to 2 gallons. A small plastic trash can will work. I suspend this container upside down over a gallon glass jar or something that raises the bucket up off the work surface a couple of inches for ease of working.


Coat the bucket lightly with a thin coat of dish detergent or soap gel. This enables the first layer of wool fiber to adhere to the bucket. Subsequent layers will adhere to the previous layer. Since I use my Outback Fibers merino roving rather than batting, I draw it out a little before I apply it. This thins it out and makes the layers finer. Draft strips by holding down the tips of the roving and gently pulling until the fibers begin to slide apart. Only pull until they flatten out in a ribbon without breaking apart. Separate at your desired length.

Cover the top of the container first. Next pull off pieces long enough to go from the top (really the bottom of the container, but it is upside down) to the lip. After this first layer evenly coats the bucket, make a second layer, this time going around the bucket, starting at the top and spiraling gradually down. The wispy tips from the previous layer can now be folded up into this next layer, giving you a tidy finish for what will become the edge of the brim. Alternate your layers until you have six to seven layers total. This will depend on how fine your fiber is and how finely you make your layers, and also, how thick you want your hat.

Surface Design

Design work can either be applied first, directly to the lightly-soaped bucket, or last, on top of the final layer of fiber.


Now take the cut-off tops from several pairs of large pantyhose and get a second pair of hands to help you stretch them over the entire bucket being very careful to shift the fiber as little as possible. Pour very hot water over this until it is well wetted down through all layers. Add soap if needed. Now either rub gently with your hands, or use your finish sander (without paper) to begin the felting process. With Outback Fibers merino, I find that applying the sander to each area twice for a few seconds each is sufficient to felt it to the stage where I can remove the pantyhose. Five to ten minutes of rubbing with your hands should create an initial skin on the felt.

Remove the hose. Rub or sand again directly on the surface of the wool. Carefully remove the hat (pouch) from the bucket.  Inspect the inside and if it  still has dry patches, return it to the bucket, re-cover the piece with the hose, add more water and rub again to ensure water penetrates entirely through to the bucket. Rub well for several minutes. Once again, slide the hat from the bucket. Your hat should be holding together fairly well at this point. 

Carefully turn it inside out and return it to the bucket.  Replace the hose to keep things snug against the bucket sides. Add a little more soap and water if fiber seems a bit dry. Rub or sand this side until felt passes the pinch test, such that the layers feel well-connected to one another.  Both sides should feel as though they have a firm "skin" on them, with no soft, loose, dry fiber in the center. 


It should now be ready to full by rolling either in your rubber carpet underlay, your bubble wrap, or rubbing on the washboard. Placing a plastic grocery bag inside the hat as a barrier will prevent the sides from sticking together at this point.

If I am planning a very wide-brimmed hat, I stretch the brim portion out a little in between each turn of rolling. Stretch hard -- if your fiber is well felted, it should not pull apart. I roll a few times then change the direction of the hat to ensure all parts get evenly fulled. Full until the felt feels hard and tight. Rinse well.

Squeeze out much of the water and toss it in the microwave for 45 seconds to heat it back up. It is easier to shape and stretch when it is hot.
Stretch the crown over whatever you are using for a hat block -- (proper block or metal bowl etc.) and then work out the brim with the aid of a hot steam iron. I generally tie a string around the base of the crown to help hold the shape before working the brim.

For a rolled brim, I have made up "sausages" from bias-cut fabric sewn into a tube and filled with rice, sawdust, whatever. Sew it into a circle the size of your average crown circumference. You can then pull this down over the crown and stretch the brim up around it. Allow to completely dry.

For a wide, flat brim, it will take a little time and some stretching to work it out flat. If mine has been too well fulled, I sometimes have to give up and settle for a rolled brim. I usually put something on the flat brim to weight it down while it dries. Stiffeners can be added if needed, but a well-fulled hat and brim made from Merino wool will hold its shape once dry.

Trim the edges of the brim if uneven, and finish by dipping the edge in hot water, and rubbing the cut edge with liquid soap to seal the cut. A fancy edge could also be applied using grosgrain ribbon, bias fabric or some form of decorative hand stitching such as blanket stitch.

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